The Illawarra cattle breed was started by Australian dairymen who improved their herd by introducing the bloodlines of superior cattle from a number of dairy breeds, especially the Ayrshire, Devon and Milking Shorthorn. The name Illawarra cattle was abbreviated from the earlier Australian Illawarra Shorthorn (AIS), and named after Illawarra, New South Wales where they developed from original Shorthorn imports and other breeds.
Illawarras are horned, large framed cattle of a predominantly red colour, with some whites or roans (mix of red and white) .
Illawarras produce large quantities of high butter fat and protein milk. In an official test in 1998, Illawarra cows averaged 4,829 litres of milk, with slightly over 4 percent butter fat and 3.4 percent protein, under Australia's pasture production system. According to the 2010 Australian Dairy Herd Improvement Report, the average production of an Illawarra cow is 6733 litres with a butterfat percentage of 3.95% and a protein percentage of 3.29%,
Illawarras are very docile cows that are noted for their longevity. They make good handling cattle for shows and are easy to work with in the dairy.
Illawarras can stand weather exceeding 40 degrees Celsius and below 0 degrees Celsius. They make the most out of feed and don't need much supplementary feeding. This adaptability under a variety conditions has contributed to the growth of the breed.
Illawarra cattle, embryos and semen have been exported to Central America, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, United States, Canada, the Middle East, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, Pakistan, United Kingdom and United States.